In the backdrop of recent crashes involving its vintage Russian combat aircraft fleet, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to retire another squadron of the MiG-21 Bison aircraft by the end of September.
This comes after a MiG-21 Type 69 Trainer aircraft crashed in Rajasthan's Barmer on Thursday, 28 July, killing both pilots on board.
"The 51 Squadron based out of Srinagar air base is being number plated on 30 September. After this, only three squadrons of the planes would be left in service and would be phased out by the year 2025," news agency ANI quoted IAF sources as saying.
They also said that every year one squadron of each of the planes will be number-plated.
The 51 squadron is most known among the public for combatting Pakistan's aerial attack in February 2019. An aircraft was flown by then Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, and had gunned down an F-16.
The IAF has been adding more capable aircrafts to its fleet like the Su-30 and the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in place of the traditional MiG-21 jets.
Over the last 20 months, as many as six MiG-21s have crashed, and five pilots have been killed, ANI reported.
The MiG-21s were to retire a long time back, but delays in the induction of the LCA Tejas aircraft had compelled the IAF to continue using these planes.
Officials from the IAF also said that the number-plated squadron will be reactivated soon with a better aircraft in the time to come.
The Crash in Rajasthan
A MiG-21 fighter aircraft of the IAF had crashed near Barmer in Rajasthan on Thursday. Both pilots on-board the twin-seater plane, which was on a training sortie, had lost their lives, the IAF said.
The deceased pilots were identified as Wing Commander M Rana from Mandi, Himachal Pradesh and Flight Lieutenant Advitiya Bal from Jammu.
"A twin seater MiG-21 trainer aircraft of the IAF was airborne for a training sortie from Utarlai air base in Rajasthan this evening," the IAF said in a statement on Thursday night.
"IAF deeply regrets the loss of lives and stands firmly with the bereaved families. A court of Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident," the statement added.
(With inputs from ANI.)